Some games have more juice. Some matches are just more fun to watch. It’s not about #narratives. It’s about pure viewing pleasure. With the playoffs looming, and spots getting sorted, here are the “I’m going to have to skip that dinner party” playoff matchups.
Here’s a thing that could happen ...
Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his match-winner against LAFC in his MLS debut this past March | USA Today Sports Images
Yeah, it could start off crazy good in the West, and it’s not even a stretch based on current standings and remaining schedules. Imagine starting off the playoffs with 50,000 packing into CenturyLink Field for the best rivalry in the league, then turning on the TV 24 hours later for Zlatan vs. Carlos Vela, loser goes home.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, left, and Wayne Rooney chat after the Red Bulls' most recent visit to Audi Field | USA Today Sports Images
Six months ago, the New York Derby would have been a wild playoff series. But since Patrick Vieira left and Wayne Rooney arrived, the more exciting games against the Red Bulls have come when D.C. are involved. Rooney and Luciano Acosta (see video at top of page) have been the most exciting tandem in MLS over the last two months.
Red Bulls have the added pressure of past playoff failures. Some people like games when teams play stress-free soccer; I like games when teams are horrified to lose. RBNY have entered the playoffs a couple times now as one of the favorites, and come up short each time. They’ll have the same high expectations this year; could this be the time the original franchise finally lifts MLS Cup?
Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman, left, defends Sporting Kansas City's Roger Espinoza | USA Today Sports Images
The best lowkey rivalry in Major League Soccer is Kyle Beckerman vs. Roger Espinoza. Two of the best midfielders of the last decade, and two of the most passionate guys, and when they play, it always gets saucy. Both are reaching the ends of their careers, so there’s more on the line than ever. Both teams keep the ball on the ground, so the game could make for great soccer.
The Red Bulls' Kaku Gamarra, left, battles with Atlanta United's Darlington Nagbe in their September match at Red Bull Arena | USA Today Sports Images
Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls
Did you see the game last Sunday? It was awesome.
Plus, they’ve proven that they are the best two teams in MLS. Playoffs get wonky, but there’s something satisfying about having the top teams make it to the end.
I thought about not answering this because I’ll get crushed for anything I say, but there’s one answer that’s just too obvious …
The Galaxy's Ashley Cole, left, would have his hands full with Atlanta's Josef Martinez in a dream MLS Cup final | USA Today Sports Images
Atlanta United vs. LA Galaxy
I really didn’t want to do this. I’ve really disliked watching the Galaxy this year. They really don’t deserve to make it to MLS Cup. But, also, they’ve had some of the most exciting games and exhilarating moments of the year. Seventy-five thousand fans at Mercedes Benz Stadium to watch the most exciting team in the league take on the most exciting player in the league. Holy crap. I’d resent it as a fan of everything decent and whole, but I’d tell all of my friends to watch.